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Oklahoma Sooners Football: Top 10 most underrated players of the Lincoln Riley Era

These players are proof you don’t have to be an All-American to make a significant impact on the field.

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Oklahoma vs Georgia Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last five seasons, the Oklahoma Sooners have boasted some of the biggest names in college football. Since 2015, the likes of Baker Mayfield, Eric Striker, Kyler Murray, Orlando Brown Jr., ‘Hollywood’ Brown, Kenneth Murray and CeeDee Lamb have been the cream of the crop when it comes to star power, but what about those who found a way to shine behind the spotlight?

Here is my list of the top 10 most underrated OU players during the Lincoln Riley Era (since taking over as OC in 2015).

10. Jeremiah Hall, FB (2017-present)

Redshirt junior fullback Jeremiah Hall is the only active player on the roster that makes this list of underrated Sooners, primarily because of the potential he displayed in 2019 while working in an offense featuring the likes of Cedarian Lamb and the run-heavy offensive styles of Jalen Hurts. After 11 starts in 14 games, he was named to the All-Big 12 Second Team on 16 receptions for 169 yards and three scores.

With two years of eligibility remaining, the chance for this Charlotte, North Carolina product to carve out a career rivaling the likes of a Dimitri Flowers exists, especially with a more balanced passing game likely returning to the Palace on the Prairie. If and/or when that happens, Hall will no longer be underrated.

9. Carson Meier, FB (2014-18)

Tulsa Union has been a high school football factory in the state of Oklahoma for quite some time, but Carson Meier isn’t typically the first name most folks think of when reminiscing over all the athletes that once called it home. Funnily enough, if factories make machines, this fullback certainly played the part throughout his career.

All he did during his lettering years at OU was play in all 54 games, with the first 40 coming primarily on special teams. As a senior, he finally established a significant role on offense. Besides being a blocking savant, he recorded 19 receptions for 327 yards and four touchdowns en route to an All-Big 12 Second Team selection. Meier also got it done in the classroom, considering he earned Academic All-Big 12 honors four seasons in a row. Are we completely sure he wasn’t the actual Terminator? I rest my case.

8. Jeff Badet, WR (2017)

In one season at Oklahoma as a graduate transfer, former Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver Jeff Badet displayed abilities few other Sooner pass catchers have shown over the past five years. He built a reputation among the SEC ranks as a big-play deep threat, and he didn’t disappoint as he transitioned to the Big 12.

In fact, he used his pure speed and veteran savviness to help Baker Mayfield become the sixth Heisman Trophy winner in program history. That’s a pretty big deal. For his collegiate curtain call, Badet hauled in 26 passes for 400 yards and three TDs, and very well could have had an absurdly prolific career in Norman with another go-around.

7. Will Johnson, DB (2015-17)

Second-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch probably would have relished the opportunity to coach a play-making DB like Will Johnson in today’s OU defense. Now Grinch will have to settle for working alongside him instead, since the former player is entering his first season as a graduate assistant on Oklahoma’s staff.

In his playing days, Johnson proved he had traces of the highly sought-after clutch gene that cannot be coached. Whenever his team needed someone to make a play or a stop, it was Johnson who came up with the key takeaway or pass breakup on multiple occasions. In a conversation about the best defensive players to come through Norman over the past handful of seasons, Johnson deserves an honorable mention at the very least, because his contributions of 120 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, two INTs and eight PBUs in 30 appearances are certainly nothing to sneeze at.

6. D.J. Ward, DE (2013-17)

The defensive line is where the elite tier of college football separates itself from the rest of the pack, so whenever Oklahoma has a war-daddy it can count on in the trenches, it’s a special time. For a good long while, D.J. Ward was one of those reliable D-Lineman who simply improved as a player in every way as he developed over five years.

As a senior in 2017, things finally came together for the Lawton native. From his end position, Ward started all 14 games for OU, and piled up some serious stats in the process. In total, he racked up 36 tackles, including 7.5 TFLs and 4.5 sacks, plus a pass breakup. He may have flown under the radar for the casual fan, but his performance did not go unnoticed among the league’s coaches, as he was named to the All-Big 12 Second Team.

5. Nila Kasitati, RG (2011-15)

Coming out of Euless, Texas in 2011, offensive lineman Nila Kasitati captivated those around him with his unique blend of a nasty streak on the field and a soft, gentle side off of it. He earned his first start at right guard in 2013, and from that point on he went on to start 26 of 38 contests, including his final 15.

Kasitati’s senior season coincided with Baker Mayfield and Lincoln Riley’s first at the controls, so it’s no surprise he had the best campaign of his collegiate run in 2015. Ultimately, he was rewarded for his exceptional year as he became an All-Big 12 First Team selection, and he managed to accomplish all of this while having the ability to absolutely crush John Legend’s ‘All of Me’. Talk about talent.

4. Amani Bledsoe, DL (2016-18)

From a pure talent and ability standpoint, there’s an argument to be made that Amani Bledsoe had the most out of all the players on this list. When a defensive lineman is simply better than his opponent, it’s usually obvious, and there were many times in his career when it was painfully apparent that he was the alpha dog in the trenches.

Unfortunately, his career was shortened because of a year-long lawsuit with the NCAA that resulted in him missing the second half of the 2016 season and the first third of 2017. Upon losing the suit, he also lost a year of eligibility. Despite the obstacles that kept his career from reaching the heights it could have, Bledsoe made the most of his time on the field with his brothers. In 2018, he amassed 37 total tackles, including four TFLs and two sacks. Plus he added a staggering seven pass breakups, which is outstanding for a player who is typically only a few yards away from the opposing QB on any given play.

3. Curtis Bolton, LB (2014-18)

It’s not often a linebacker is considered vastly underrated when he records 139 tackles, 12 TFLs, 4.5 sacks and scores three non-offensive TDs all in a single season, but that’s what happened with Curtis Bolton in 2018. In part it was because he played next to Kenneth ‘K9’ Murray, but also because the much-maligned defense that year led to the mid-season dismissal of DC Mike Stoops, and whenever that’s the circumstance, hardly anybody will be given proper recognition for their individual success.

Bolton originally made his contributions on special teams, but as a senior the door opened for him to make an impact on defense. After starting all 14 games in 2018, including a 23-tackle performance against Army, he became an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention choice by the coaches, and went on to sign with the Green Bay Packers as a UDFA. He had a real chance to start as a rookie, too, but a torn ACL sidelined him for the season. Still, that alone serves as proof of how severely underrated he was (or how much his talent was squandered) at OU.

2. Ahmad Thomas, S (2013-16)

In the game of football, most players will miss a game here and there, and most players aren’t career starters. Don’t look at Ahmad Thomas as an example for any of that, though, because that’s pretty much all this cat from Miami did. During his time at OU, Oklahoma played 52 games, and he played in 51 of them, including the final 39 as a starter.

Safety is an interesting position to watch because if the ball or ball carrier is coming their way, something interesting is likely going to happen. That was often the case for Thomas in a number of ways, because whether that was through the air or on the ground, he had every intention on making the other team pay. Since he graduated, the Sooners haven’t had another safety who’s had the range in their game that Thomas did.

As was the case with Bolton, perhaps Thomas’ talent was squandered to some degree in the defense. What can’t be denied, however, was how physically imposing he was at his position. Beyond his 223 career tackles, five TFLs, 2.5 sacks and four INTs, he was an absolute enforcer at the point of attack. You don’t have to take my word for it, just ask Auburn’s Kamryn Pettway.

1. Erick Wren, C (2015-17)

When I first imagined who the most underrated player to come through Oklahoma’s program over the last five years would be, I knew it had to be someone who came to Norman with next to no expectations only to achieve true greatness outside of the limelight. Naturally, offensive linemen are usually the most under-appreciated players on the entire team — at least by the casual fan — but those with a deeper understanding of the game know fully well just how vital a strong unit is to a team’s overall success.

That’s why I chose center Erick Wren as the most underrated Sooner in the Lincoln Riley Era. Coming from the JUCO ranks of Arizona Western C.C. in 2015, he began his OU career as a walk-on. In 2016, when the injury bug caused the offensive line to shuffle, Wren was tasked with taking over in the middle, and he quickly weathered the storm. Soon afterwards, he was placed on scholarship, and as they say, the rest is history.

As a senior, Wren was named an All-Big 12 First Team selection as he led one of the top offensive lines in the nation, and although the unit was controversially kept off the group of finalists for the Joe Moore Award, there was no denying how critical that O-Line was to the historically prolific season Oklahoma enjoyed. Best of all, he’s now back with the program as a grad assistant. I’d say all things considered, his backstory has the makings for a successful future in this business.

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